You are reading material prepared during the development of the pirate life simulation game Corsairs Legacy by Ukrainian Mauris studio with the aim of popularizing the marine theme in general and pirate games in particular. You can follow the project news on our website, YouTube channel, and Telegram.
In this article, Kirill Nazarenko analyzes the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
Hello! Today our issue will be devoted to the analysis of a very good film "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World".
The genre of my speech, of course, involves criticism, I will name some things that drew my attention from a not very good side, but, in general, the Master and Commander film is very good.
It should be noted that I do not know of another film that would be dedicated to the sailing fleet and which would show its reality so well as the Master and Commander film.
Indeed, the ship seems to be real, and some small details are just genuine details of the late 18th - early 19th centuries.
The film "Master and Commander": prop on the ship in the form of a column
In the frame, from time to time, such a column flickers, which props up the ceiling and stands inside the room. This column looks like a round column with a small capital, and this is how these props really looked on the ships of the late 18th - early 19th centuries, playing not only a technical but also an aesthetic function. True, in the Master and Commander film this column is rather metal, which is typical of the middle of the 19th century, but all the same, these are sailing ships, and even in such trifles the authors of the film turned out to be quite accurate.
If we talk about the technical side, then the plot in the Master and Commander film is based on the battle of two frigates, which was typically not so much for the Napoleonic Wars, but for the second War of Independence of 1812-1815, when the United States and Great Britain collided for the second and last time on the battlefield. During this war, American frigates played a big role. It was a unique occurrence.
It must be understood that American frigates were mansions compared to British, French, Russian, etc. The Americans, when in 1794 they decided to revive the American fleet and created the fleet that exists continuously to this day, decided not to build battleships. They understood that they could not build as many battleships as Great Britain, and they would always be weaker. But in the event of a future war, they relied on the fight on communications, and the capture of enemy merchant ships. For this task, it was necessary to build some very strong ships of the frigate class.
Thus, the American frigate was born, which was originally a 44-gun, and then 50, and even a 60-gun frigate. They were of great length. They had a long battery on which many guns could be placed.
Master and Commander. 18th century American frigate
At the same time, the Americans did not build many frigates, so the quality of construction was the highest. Let me remind you that the frigate Constitution is still on the water. This is a unique case in the world practice for a wooden ship to stand on the water for more than 200 years, even if repaired.
For the hull of the ship, oak was used, which was subjected to special processing. The Americans had a lot of forests, and they did not build so many warships, so they could choose their wood very carefully. Moreover, these American frigates turned out to be very strong, so in all the one-on-one clashes with the British frigates during the second War of Independence, the American frigates emerged victorious.
This clicked on the nose of the British, who were used to defeating the French in one-on-one battles. But this is not surprising, because England had a completely different task. England needed to build a lot of frigates that could cover the huge merchant shipping of Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars from French corsairs. Moreover, for this, it was necessary to build relatively small weak frigates, about 20-30-gun, or even not frigates, but sloops or corvettes — this is a 3-masted ship that does not have a closed artillery deck, and the guns are on one open deck. The sloop or corvette can be 20-24 guns.
But in this case, it is the English frigate that is shown in the Master and Commander film.
The film "Master and Commander": English frigate
He seems to be carrying about 30 guns and they are 18 pounds, I think. But it is clear that a 30-gun frigate armed with 18-pounder guns had very little chance in the fight against an American 44-gun frigate, which had 24-pounder guns on its closed deck and 24-pounder carronades on the upper deck. This type of frigate would later become a classic, and in the 40s of the 19th century, many people would build them. The Americans by this time were already building 60-gun frigates.
Therefore, in a real battle between an English frigate and an American one, the first one simply didn’t have a chance, even considering the very good training and extensive combat experience of the English sailors, which the Americans did not have. But a movie wouldn't be a movie if the protagonist failed in it. Therefore, the action in the Master and Commander film was transferred to the war with the French, again so that the English-speaking audience would not split while watching this film and everyone would be on the side of the protagonist. And, which is natural for cinema, the main character was made the winner.
At the same time, the question of the technical characteristics of the French frigate, which has to be fought, hung in the air. It is said to be 44-gun, its sides are made of bog oak and are 2 feet thick.
Next, in the Master and Commander film the captain of a British ship is brought a model made by sailors depicting the contours of this French ship, because one of the sailors saw it at the shipyard in Boston, where it was built.
The film "Master and Commander": Sailors show the captain a model of a French ship
And here a little funny moment turned out, the team that shot the film was a little underdeveloped. Because I would believe it if the sailors cut out the ship's contours from a bar, that is, they would take a wooden block and cut out the contours with a knife. That would already give some information to the captain.
However, in the frame, we see the Admiralty model, which was made in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries during the construction of any ship, especially a military one, because the carpenters did not understand the drawings. The ship masters could read the drawings, and the carpenter had to explain what and where to stick and screw, so they made the Admiralty model. It exactly repeated the set of the ship's hull, while, as a rule, there was no plating on it, or the plating was placed only on one side so that the internal structure could be seen. Moreover, the main thing in the Admiralty model was a grid of frames and beams that supported the decks, and horizontal or inclined fastenings between the frames, because, for the sake of arranging these parts, the Admiralty model was made.
It is clear that the sailor who once saw a frigate under construction in Boston did not even work at this construction site. And, after some time, he simply could not describe this design to his comrade in such detail that he would later make it in the form of an Admiralty model — it was impossible. It's fantasy anyway. Moreover, the specific location of the beams would be of little interest to the captain of the ship, who must fight against the enemy ship that is shown on the model.
Again, when the captain in the Master and Commander film talks about how this is a new word in technology, he names a few correct words, but the model does not match these words.
To emphasize the progressiveness of the design, I would make a round stern. That is, in the upper part of the stern there is a commander's cabin, and it is expressed on the outer side by windows with bindings, in contrast to the cannon ports that go further. This part of the ship in any case had a trapezoidal shape with pronounced angles.
Below, the aft gap began, and then it passed into the transom, that is, a flat bulkhead that closed the hull of the vessel. The transom then passed into the sternpost. It was the weak point of the ship, but not so much for combat as for swimming, because the transom adjoining the sides at an angle was not very strong.
The film "Master and Commander": the stern of the ship
Therefore, at the end of the 18th - at the beginning of the 19th century, they came up with the idea of making this part of the stern rounded. That is, at the top, where the cabin was, it was still rectangular, namely, at the level of the upper part of the steering wheel, they began to round it. This gave certain advantages both in terms of overcoming water resistance and in terms of hull strength. Therefore, the round stern was in trend in the early years of the 19th century, and it was possible to show it here.
As for the sharp contours in the film "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World", there was too much. This is because, in the second half of the 19th century, the so-called clipper contours appeared, that is, very sharp contours of the bow, which were widely used on clippers.
If you look at modern sailboats that still sail the seas, they have very sharp contours, such as an elongated nose, but this is already ship architecture of the second half of the 19th century. In the first half of the 19th century, no one doubted that the bow of the ship should be rounded because it should not burrow into the water, this is very important.
If the ship has sharp lines, it will tend to burrow into the wave when it is ahead or when the ship is catching up with the wave. This is very dangerous because then it will be almost impossible to be on the deck. Some modern ships with steam turbines can safely go, because, firstly, it is large, and, secondly, during a storm, you can stay in the interior.
On a sailing ship, more or less comfortable work on the deck was a necessary condition for the existence of the ship. It was impossible to allow the waves to roll freely over the deck because there were a lot of people working on the deck. And this characteristic slightly blunt nose served to ensure that the ship climbed the wave well. Therefore, sharp contours were more of a minus than a plus.
I repeat once again that it is hardly possible to make an Admiralty model like this according to the description. Here, most likely, the props were pierced a little, because the text says that the sailor carved the model — then it should be just a wooden block and not such a delicate work.
And of course, it’s not enough to reward a glass of rum for such work, because one person had to mess around with this model for about two weeks. He still has to keep watch on the ship, work with sails, and sleep sometime. I would give a few guineas to this sailor.
Let me remind you that a guinea is an English gold coin worth 21 shillings in that era, and this is 1 shilling more than pound sterling.
The film "Master and Commander": English gold guinea coin
Considering that qualified English sailors in the navy received about 10 pounds a year, I think this work was worth a couple of pounds. Moreover, commander steward says that he will also give wine instead of rum. Somehow, it's not very good.
Now let's move on to the storm scene in the film "Master and Commander". It is shown pretty well. The only thing I have doubts about is the manner of wearing clothes.
Of course, the sailors went unbuttoned and rather badly disheveled, this was accepted. But during a storm, which is accompanied by rain and strong wind, any person instinctively wants to fasten up, somehow covering his body. And here the sailors and officers, both in good weather and in bad weather, go the same unbuttoned.
In addition, this characteristic manner of modern cinema, for the main character to be without a headdress, is sheer stupidity. Sailors were almost always wearing hats, at least in bad weather, for sure.
The film "Master and Commander": the main character
Now, of course, to show all the humanism of the heroes and the tragedy of the situation in the film "Master and Commander", the filmmakers dragged out the story with the cutting of gear a little. But here it is still not very clear what exactly fell off the ship. Apparently, the topmast broke, that is, the upper knee of the mast, along with the yardarm and sail, flew overboard. Of course, it remained connected to some kind of cables, and it is clear that they had to be cut. Because in this way the situation of a floating anchor arose.
This technique was also used in the management of the ship under normal conditions. If it was necessary to slow down the course of the vessel during a storm, then they threw out a floating anchor. It was tied from several spare topmasts and yards in the form of a triangle, and spare sails could also be tied to it. This thing was thrown overboard, and it swam behind the ship, creating a lot of resistance. Thus, it was possible to slow down the movement of the vessel.
Under certain conditions, this was necessary. But such a floating anchor, which happened by chance in the film "Master and Commanderwas very dangerous. However, not because the ship would capsize (this could happen if the mast was completely broken). The danger was that this floating anchor began to interfere with the movement of the ship.
During the storm, there were two options for movement. Either the ship lay down in a drift, while part of the sails turned as in a normal course, and partly turned so that the wind pressed on them from the opposite side, and thus the ship would not move very much in the wind. This helped the ship to keep its place. Sometimes an additional floating anchor was added to further slow the drift. But at the same time, the ship experienced more stress, because it was subjected to wave blows, a strong wind blows on the spars and rigging, and drift in a very strong storm was impossible. In a strong storm, it was only possible to put a small part of the sails, or special storm sails, and move in some direction.
But the safest from the point of view of the wind was to go with the wind, and it is clear that at the same time the speed was very high, and it was possible to go completely in the wrong direction. Therefore, sometimes, during a storm, I had to go along other courses. But, in any case, the topmast dangling overboard with a yardarm and a sail did not improve the position of the ship, so it was necessary to chop.
The fate of a sailor who, say, fell overboard during a storm or flew out with a piece of ship equipment, was decided, it was almost impossible to save him. Any sailor of the sailing fleet understood that the rest of the ship had to be saved.
The film "Master and Commander": a sailor mourns the deceased
Well, it’s not very clear where the person who fell off is swimming. They shout at him to swim somewhere, but this is completely unthinkable, because a fall from a height of 10-20 meters with a blow to the water in most cases ended in an instant loss of consciousness, and the person simply went to the bottom. It is clear that in the cinema, for the viewer to cry, it was necessary to show this scene a little longer, everyone needed to discuss the moment of the death of the sailor.
I do not want to say that the people of the 18th century were absolutely indifferent to the death of a comrade. No, of course not. But in this situation, everything was clear to everyone, and some kind of regret and discussion of the death of a comrade was possible after the end of the storm. Moreover, during the storm, everyone had too much to do to be sad about the death of a sailor. And the scene with the analysis of his things could be given a little later to show that the sailors were actually sad.
Again, it was possible to show the scene of the inheritance of maritime property. There was such a story: if the sailors did not have close relatives, then their closest friends inherited their property. Or it was possible to show a person who is ready to take this property for himself and keep it for transfer to his wife or mother, which was quite natural. Through this scene, it was possible to show how the sailors relate to the memory of the deceased.
The film "Master and Commander": the crew of the ship honors the memory of the deceased
Finally, the fight in the film "Master and Commander". Let's start with the idea of the captain shooting at the mast of the French ship.
In a naval battle, this is logical, but, firstly, not at that distance at all. The battle was shown at a distance of a pistol shot, and then it was already necessary to hit the hull and the deck, and not the mast.
On the other hand, the reception is legal, and it is possible that the authors of Master and Commander tried to beat this moment. Shooting at spars is considered a characteristic technique of the French. This is a long story, it is connected with the theoretical developments of French naval officers in the 18th century, with the development of tactics that would allow them, in any case, to reduce any battle with the British to a draw.
But for this, it was absolutely not necessary to remove the wheels from the machine tools of the guns. There was an absolutely routine method for this. Any marine machine made it possible to raise the gun barrel by 10-15 degrees — this is a very large elevation angle. Because at a distance of 100 meters, if you raise the gun by 15 degrees, you can shoot the cannonball to a height of almost 10 meters. Therefore, even in this way, it was possible to hit the mast.
Still, if you wanted to raise the barrel very high, then you could put wedges under the front wheels of the gun. This could be done because such wedges were placed under the rear wheels when the gun was fastened in a storm. It was tied so that it rested with its muzzle against the cover of the cannon port from the inside, and wedges were knocked under the wheels for fixing. Naturally, the gun at the same time quietly rolled back. It did not move out of the wedges, because waists were extended from the sides, that is, blocks with which the gun was pulled to the side, and their resistance was enough so that the gun did not just roll off.
The movie "Master and Commander": guns on the ship
After the shot, the hoists were pulled apart, that is, the gun rolled back with force. Again, the hoists, the ropes passing through the blocks, slightly slowed down the rollback. Well, then the gun finally stopped when the length of the trousers ended, that is, the rope, which was fixed with two ends in the sides and the middle was passed either from behind through the gun itself, or a special hole in the machine. In this way, the gun could be safely loaded.
Removing the wheels was bad, not because it was impossible to reload the gun after a shot, but because if it recoiled, the gun would still drive off along the deck, and the deck would deteriorate extremely. Even the wooden wheels that rolled over the deck spoiled it badly. Furthermore, since the sailors walked barefoot, the number of splinters in their legs could be very large even after ordinary shooting.
And if you remove the rear wheels, then the deck will generally stand on end. Not to mention that there is a risk of capsizing the gun. The deck is not perfectly smooth, and the boards were laid along the ship, and not across, that is, the gun had to move across the deck boards. There it is enough for one board to protrude slightly so that there is a threat of overturning the gun. Therefore, I am more than sure that no one has ever removed the wheels from the gun machine.
By the way, the film "Master and Commander" shows well that the English guns are equipped with flintlocks, like guns, and they shoot not because an overcoat with a smoldering wick is brought up, but because the sailor pulls the cord, the flint hits the flint, sparks are struck and set fire to the gunpowder on the shelf, then the fire passes inside the gun and a shot occurs.
This is generally an English idea, and by the beginning of the 19th century, guns were equipped with flintlocks on all ships of the English fleet. This system had its disadvantage because the flintlock did not provide a 100% shot guarantee and there could be a misfire, plus it suffered from dampness. But, given the rate of fire and safety, it was a big step forward.
The film "Master and Commander": the boarding scene
Next in the film "Master and Commander" comes the boarding scene and in it, the captain with pistols, like a cowboy with revolvers, walks around the deck and turns in different directions.
Still, before the advent of the capsule lock, flintlock weapons did not provide 100% operability. And the capsule lock was, in hunting weapons, the 20s of the XIX century, in military weapons, this is already the 40s of the XIX century when they learned how to make explosive mercury and packed it in special small copper tubes, hitting them with a hammer, a snob arose fire that ignited the charge. So, these capsules already provided almost 100% operation, unlike flintlocks.
There are statistics, let's say English locks were of very good quality and were very expensive during the Napoleonic wars, they misfired once in 50-60 shots, and French locks misfired once in 15-20 shots. This means that at least once out of 15-20 shots your gun did not fire.
And if you shake it at the same time or, wear it on your belt for a while, grab it sharply, then there will be even more chances of a misfire because while it was hanging from your belt, the gunpowder could fall off the shelf, the gunpowder could dampen and even a bullet could just fall out of the barrel. Therefore, it was possible to walk with two pistols, as the captain does, but it was dangerous.
As a rule, people of the 18th - early 19th centuries took edged weapons, a saber, a sword, or a cleaver in their right hand, and held a pistol in their left hand. In case the pistol doesn't work, melee weapons will always work.
And, by the way, the officers of most of the armies of Europe in the Napoleonic Wars did not use pistols at all, especially if they were officers who moved on foot, that is, lower-level officers, junior officers, and company commanders. They considered it unnecessary to carry a pistol with them because one sword or saber was enough. Shooting and stabbing is the business of soldiers, and an officer must command, and for self-defense, a saber or a sword is enough for him.
Only in the Austrian army were officers required to carry a pistol in combat, even if they were on foot. Here in the equestrian formation, of course, two pistols were always fumbling in the saddle, but this load was dragged by the horse, not the rider. Well, in a naval battle, if we take the weapons of the boarding teams, then this is some kind of cold weapon and a pistol as an additional weapon.
Now, when boarding, our heroes slightly fly, like Tarzan, on a rope aboard an enemy ship. True, this happens once or twice and for a short distance. And of course, the cunning of the French looks pretty funny, who at first all hid, and when the British climbed onto their deck, covered with corpses, the French all suddenly jumped out and attacked them. As a dramatic technique, this is, of course, great, but in a real fight, it was impossible.
The film "Master and Commander": shooter on the mast
Well, I was a little surprised that the marines in the film "Master and Commander" serve as gunners on the mast. In general, in our universe, marines rarely climbed masts.
Not even all the sailors climbed the masts, only 10% of the crew from the entire warship did it. Moreover, if we take only sailors, then somewhere around 20-25% of them should have worked at the top. They selected people who knew how to shoot and armed them with rifled weapons, special long-barreled guns, which were called filibusters. These guns had a barrel length of up to one and a half meters and gave greater accuracy.
These people from above were the ones who were firing, and the soldiers of the Marine Corps could simply not reach the top, not to mention shooting from the swinging top. To do this, it was necessary to have a certain practice, by no means it could be a soldier who was only firing at speed while in formation.
Soldiers in the film "Master and Commander", of course, had to fire quickly in the first place, and accuracy was already a bonus at best. I'm not even talking about a soldier's uniform. In the film, the soldiers are very correctly shown buttoned up, neat enough. That’s what they looked like. However, another thing is that in battles in the English fleet, soldiers wore sailor uniforms, because it was more convenient. And, for example, in Russia, officially the soldiers of the Marine Corps were given items of sailor uniforms that they wore in a non-combat situation. In battle, the soldiers, of course, were neat.
By the way, I must say that the naval officers also looked quite neat in battle, in any case, they put on a fresh white shirt and buttoned it up. However, in the movie, they are like a street gang. During normal times on the ship, this was normal, since there was no place to wash and wash, but in battle, an officer should look dapper. Midshipmen look quite dapper. It can be seen that these young guys were preparing for battle, and the captain, as he was disheveled, remained disheveled in battle.
The film "Master and Commander": the captain of the ship
Again, there was a blatant error in the film "Master and Commander", but it could also be a translation error — the French are shouting “Stop!” But the sailing ship could not stop. The correct command would be to “drift” or “remove sails”.
In conclusion, to praise the film "Master and Commander" once again, I will say that the scene of preparation for the fight is very good. When sailors beat the rust off the cannonballs when the command “put new flints on pistols and cannons” sounds, it’s very cool, that’s how it looked.
I must say that the cannonballs in the XVIII-XIX centuries looked rather ugly because they were stored in the hold, they would often lay in the water, and were very rusty. By the way, in the rules of loading and firing, there is a special command that says that before each shot you need to hit the cannonball on the edge of the barrel. Apparently, the purpose of this blow was to shake off some kind of rust, dust, and dirt from the cannonball, so as not to drag it into the barrel.
It is clear that before the battle it would be nice to sort out all the cannonballs and beat off rust or paint from them.
The film "Master and Commander": sailors beat rust from the cores
Well, silicon, of course, had to be placed very carefully. Let me remind you that flint was placed for a reason. Each flint stone was first beaten and given a special tooth shape necessary for its proper functioning.
Each soldier in his cartridge bag had to have 2-3 spare flints. Moreover, the grades of silicon were different. Further, the flint had to be wrapped with a special lead plate, which was cut along the edge with teeth. This lead plate served as a clutch into which the flint was inserted. And then it was possible to screw it directly, but it was better to wrap it with a piece of thick oiled leather, and only after that screw it into special sponges that were attached to a gun or pistol.
There was a screw and, to rotate it, there was a special screwdriver. And it was necessary to do this carefully so as not to strip the thread because the screw could be steel or brass.
Furthermore, it was necessary to screw it tightly so that the screw would not stagger and so that with numerous blows against the flint, it would not loosen and fly out. If in battle the flint suddenly cracked or fell out, then there were spare ones to replace them. But it is clear that this required several minutes, and it disabled your firearms for a while.
At the same time, it was necessary to look so that the steel was not erased, and so that the notch was sufficiently expressed so that the springs worked well. That is, the soldier constantly had to monitor his flintlock and check once again before the battle how the flint hits the flint because that was very important.
Therefore, in general, summing up, I would say that "Master and Commander" is a good film, which conveys many realities of the 18th - early 19th centuries. But, of course, the film is not without certain shortcomings, which, as always, can be expressed. Thank you.
We hope you found this article useful!
Learn more about the Corsairs Legacy - Historical Pirate RPG Simulator project and add it to your wishlist on the game's Steam page.